Thursday, September 1, 2011


We have a machine where I work, an Espresso Book Machine. It's job is to make books; it looks a bit Rube Goldberg, a bit Steampunk, a bit ridiculous. It makes sounds like a Willie Wonka machine. And in the end, after a few minutes, it gives you a book, much like any other paperback.

I work on the machine. Not maintenance, which I definitely do not do. Machines are complicated, and I do not well perform the job of fixing them. No, I print things. Which is really just a lot of pushing of buttons, of making sure the right things are loaded as far as paper and ink and suchlike, and of keeping an eye out for problems. We print up odds and ends, books that have long gone out of print, books that have been tossed out to Lightning Source (which is like a centralized Print on Demand clearing house), and increasingly, we print out self published books.

Some of them are interesting: a family cookbook thick and rich with memories. Some are curious: a translation of Gandaharan fragments to be taken with the author, in 800 page versions, to India. Some are slightly embarrassing: a collection of not terribly good poems with a horrid cover and very bad formatting. But each and every author is excited to see their book, to handle it, still warm from the presses. A few of the books we agree to carry in the store, but most of them are just for the authors. They may give them away, or sell them on their own time, or in one case sell them in a different store that is near their house but which does not, and never will, have an EBM.

We named ours Homer. I like to pretend it's because of the ancient blind poet, and that we fancy ourselves on some sort of odyssey. This isn't true. It's from a book about a donut machine, which was vaguely similar to our own contraption. But can we still stick with the lie about the poet? I like him better.

The machine has some problems. It's high strung and shows it by being picky about when it will and will not work perfectly. It's prone to running out of things all at the same time, so that you change out the paper, and five pages later must change out the toner, and five pages after that change out a color on the cover printer. It produces a smell compounded of toner and glue, which is potent and gives some people (myself included) headaches. All the same, I find it a wonder. That there could be such a device that would make a book, and millions of books no less, for a reasonable price and in a reasonable amount of time, is outlandish and as near to a miracle as I'm inclined to believe in. As much as I expect and assume that the future of the written word will be in digital form, it is terribly exciting still to hold a book hot from the presses and to put it in the hand of she what wrote it.

Today I'm working on Homer. I'm making books. I'm fulfilling dreams. It is a wonderful feeling, different in scale but the same in kind as was compiling the forthcoming 20001 anthologie. There, too, I made a few dreams come true, more immediately. Yet I can't deny the wonder of holding the book in hand, any book, which is fresh and a little tacky from the heat and still smells of ink. It is wonderful.

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